Ever heard of the “Bodies Exhibit” (you know, that collection made up of 200 actual human bodies that was dissected and is now a world renowned anatomical art exhibit)?

Well before the world had access to actual silicone coated human cadavers and organs they had artists.

And artists would meticulously recreate bodies and their inner workings out of wax.

I, for one, am absolutely fascinated by these hyper-realistic and down-right disturbing sculptures. I spent many a Pinterest night exploring this under-appreciated art form.

And today,Madeleine Swann is taking us on a tour of Europe’s oldest anatomical wax collection in Florence, Italy – La Specola museum.

“The wax collection, unique in the quantity and beauty of its pieces, was created in order to teach anatomy without having to directly observe a cadaver. In the mid 1800’s, due to the physical separation of each discipline.”[www.museumsinflorence.com]

Here’s the walk-about:

madeleineswannMadeleine, thank you so much for taking us on this adventure with you!

Madeleine is an author, blogger, podcaster, youtuber and woman after my own heart.

You can find out more about her and her work by visiting her:

Website (and her newest book): http://madeleineswann.com/

Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6wDXC7R4gDR9ZGDX5De3Ew

Podcast: https://bizartpodcast.wordpress.com/

Here’s a little more about what exactly these wax figures are:

“The art of wax modelling has an ancient origin but rose to prominence in 14th century Italy with the cult of votive artefacts. With the advent of Neoclassicism this art, now deemed repulsive, continued to survive in a scientific environment, where it flourished in the study of normal and pathological La Specola Museumanatomy, obstetrics, zoology and botany. The achievement of having originated the creation of anatomical models in coloured wax must be ascribed to a joint effort undertaken by the Sicilian wax modeller Gaetano Giulio Zumbo and the French surgeon Guillaume Desnoues in the late 17th century. Interest in anatomical wax models spread throughout Europe during the 18th century, first in Bologna with Ercole Lelli, Giovanni Manzolini and Anna Morandi, and then in Florence with Felice Fontana and Clemente Susini. In England, the art of anatomical ceroplastics was brought to London from Florence by the sculptor Joseph Towne. Throughout the centuries many anatomical artists preferred this material due to the remarkable mimetic likeness obtained, far surpassing any other material. Independent of the material used, whether wood, wax or clay, anatomical models were always considered merely craft works confined to hospitals or faculties of medicine and have survived to this day only because of their scientific interest. Italian and English waxes are stylistically different but the remarkable results obtained by Susini and Towne, and the fact that some contemporary artists are again representing anatomical wax bodies in their works, makes the border that formerly separated art and craft indistinguishable.” [www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]


  1. “Zoologia La Specola – wax anatomical models” by Daderot. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zoologia_La_Specola_-_wax_anatomical_models.JPG#/media/File:Zoologia_La_Specola_-_wax_anatomical_models.JPG
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2815944/
  3. http://www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/museum_of_natural_history.html

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